Simonson Says: Is same-sex marriage a 'conservative cause'?

Making the rounds on Facebook this week was a piece in The American Conservative written by none other than Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah and Republican candidate in the 2012 presidential elections. Huntsman, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, argued in his editorial that “marriage equality is a conservative cause.”

I’m not here to agree or disagree with Huntsman’s statement, but I would like to examine this viewpoint. We’ve certainly heard the case for it NOT being reflective of conservative values, which is the only reason I’m not going to examine that perspective in equal detail here (well, and because of space). Though Huntsman’s argument mostly focuses on how embracing same-sex marriage is good for conservatives because it keeps them relevant and because it’s the right thing to do, I want to take a closer look at the underrepresented idea that allowing same-sex marriage would actually promote conservative values rather than stomp on them. Again, we’ve heard enough reasons why it doesn’t; let’s look at some reasons why it arguably does.

First of all, conservatives place tremendous value on marriage and family. Is that value tossed aside in cases of single-parent families, or marriages wherein the couple cannot have children? Of course not; every conservative has heard that argument before and insisted that those are valid familial units that can still result in happy, healthy children or marriages. Such situations might not always be ideal, they say, but sometimes there is no way around them. Are families headed by parents of the same sex so different? No one goes around picketing a single mom who lives with her sister or mother for help with raising her children, even if it is not the “ideal” situation. Even if it benefits a child to have both a male and female role model (which, by the way, they can still have even if both biological parents are not around), we’ve all accepted that this just isn’t always the case and is not necessarily the ultimate death sentence.

Conservatives believe so strongly in marriage because it can be such a blessing. They preach about how wonderful and necessary it is and how everyone should do it, but discourage it for some of the people who want it the most. Yes, I know same-sex marriage is not the marriage they’re talking about, but that leaves homosexuals with three basic options: (1) They can live a life of promiscuity, which is about as un-conservative as you can get. Isn’t part of marriage’s purpose, in conservative ideals, to curb and control sexual behavior in a safe space, to be used only in situations of meaningful, committed relationships? (2) They can marry someone of the opposite sex, which isn’t fair to either party (unless, of course, both parties are open and honest about it from the beginning and it’s what they both truly want). (3) Or they can be celibate for the rest of this life — not just abstaining from sex, but from any and all romantic activity, including dates and hand-holding — which sounds like a pretty bleak outlook to most people.

Conservatives also believe strongly in adoption, that every child deserves the chance at life and to go to a good family. You can’t tell everybody who can’t raise a child to put theirs up for adoption and then limit the pool of families who can adopt them to an astronomically smaller level. I’d much rather a loving parent who doesn’t have an opposite-sex spouse (whether that be a single parent or a same-sex couple) raise a child than an abusive family with both parents, and I think conservative values would say the same. And no, I’ve never seen any studies suggesting that children with gay parents are any more likely to be gay or promiscuous; I’ve only ever seen studies claiming that they’re less likely to be judgmental of people who are different (which sounds just terrible, doesn’t it?).

This may look like an argument for legalizing gay marriage, but it’s simply an argument that the legalization of same-sex marriage might ultimately reinforce conservative values — unless you think the only conservative value under the sun is that marriage is between a man and woman. But you can hold that religious belief while still thinking that same-sex marriage is the best thing for this country politically. Politics and religion are very different, because government cannot legislate morality, only the fairness and stability of society. And “conservatism” is a political label, not a religion.